World-Wide Web

The World-Wide Web is a purely notional entity. It doesn't exist. It is a name for a body of material strewn about thousands of computers, given standardized addresses, and set up in a format that makes it possible to move from one piece of material to another, seamlessly and often by the technique known as hypertext. Click here to read a footnote. The WWW became widely popular and well-known in the fall of 1993 when the browsing tool Mosaic became available, which allowed easy navigation as well as display of non-textual materials -- still and motion pictures, and audio as well.

You are using the WWW already to read and work through this demo. The basic principle is simple: see something highlighted, click on it, see where it goes. Hit "Back" and go where you've already been.

The first marvel of the WWW approached by something like Mosaic (or the very new improved Mosaic Netscape program) is that it lets you as teacher create materials very easily that can then be used by students in your courses, by students and faculty elsewhere, and by your students in courses in years to come with very little maintenance. I have handouts that I have photocopied religiously for many years that I will now never photocopy again -- and will never have to bring more copies to class for students who lost theirs or were absent. Similarly with a syllabus: conservative that I am, I still bring paper syllabus materials to the first meeting of the course, but never after that.

The second marvel is more obvious than the first: as the body of material on the WWW grows explosively, a world of information is being brought not merely to our campus but to our desktops. Learning how to handle it can be a bit of a chore, I suppose, but it rather compares to the chore of learning how to handle a multi-million dollar lottery winning -- if you make up your mind to it, it's really very easy. For indexing, my favorite strategy is to go to the place called YAHOO! and use their search engine. But notice something very useful there; when your search is finished at Yahoo, at the bottom of the results page it gives you half a dozen more WWW search engine names. When you click on them, you will find that they have already done your search for you, at Yahoo's request. Now Yahoo has a select set of resources, and that's good (though it's getting a bit commercial for my taste), but WebCrawler, for example, searches bazillions of WWW sites and gives you comprehensiveness, while Lycos and Inktomi both have their fans there as well. But go to Yahoo first, then push on from there.

One other remarkable feature. The WWW is a transparent medium in an interesting way. Look at my "Worlds of Late Antiquity Page": it begins with syllabus and reading lists, proceeds to handouts and short texts of interests, but leads on by the end of the page to some rather specialized and arcane resources. Now the serious scholar will have more use for those than the average undergrad in my sector-requirement-filling lecture course -- but just that undergrad at least has the chance to go on shuffling down my page and following her interest as far as it will go. If only one or two such students make that transition, they will make it more easily because this sort of thing is available.

So what's on the WWW and how to use it? (1) You can link to materials elsewhere. You can point expressly to some specific resource, or you can point to pages that themselves gather and organize a wide range of materials. This is an especially valuable way to get at nascent "libraries" on the WWW, where individuals have taken responsibility for keeping an eye out for materials in a specific field and keeping links to them up to date. Examples may be seen here from the disciplines of history, medieval studies, and classical studies and Mediterranean archaeology. I keep a page of "bookmarks" of my own with a mix of tools I really use myself, things I want to point my students towards, things I use in demonstrations to others, and some things that amuse as well as instruct.

There is also a home page for the University of Pennsylvania, which offers the Penninfo campus- wide information service, the full text of articles in the Almanac, the Penn Expertise database of faculty c.v.'s, a link to the Penn library computer gateway, and such extras as SEPTA and Amtrak railway timetables.

But you can create material of your own as well. It's a good idea for any faculty member to have a "home page" that your students can use to get at all the material you create and point to. There can then be other "home pages" for specific courses. Use of the "forms" feature lets you design -- best if you have some technical help here -- ways for students to interact with the material you post.

How hard is it to create new materials this way?

Creating text with the full "HTML" formatting takes only a small amount of training and practice. Look for example, at this example of an old scholarly article of mine that I had scanned, proofread, and put in hypertext links so that the footnotes are available in an instant when you click on the highlighted footnote calls.

To add images and to import text: There are facilities scattered around campus (for humanities computing, notably the new electronic "prep center" at 633 Williams) which provide equipment and advice. A single "scanner" can both read off text and turn it into electronic text (typically such text needs a fair amount of proofreading) and then turn around and take images from books and photographs, digitize them, and let you manipulate them for size, even crop and rearrange them for effect and include them in text pages you create.

The other possibilities in the prep center are vast: image CD's, audio and video recording, multiple transformations of e-data, and a library of important and useful kinds of software to experiment with and use.

It doesn't take much thought to realize that what the WWW provides is in fact the most flexible and convenient form of instant publishing available. Faculty should remember to be careful to think about the copyright implications of what they copy and put on the WWW, but should also be eager to take full advantage of the WWW's power. Think of three categories: preprints, paraprints, postprints.

Preprints are the easiest to imagine -- the sciences have been doing them for years. Already in high energy physics, the preprint is the chief way to find out about current work, and virtually all preprint work now is done through a computer server at Los Alamos that answers thousands of requests a day. Other fields have different cultures, but even the traditional humanities can imagine ways to put up material not yet ready for prime time: sometimes just for your students in a grad seminar, other times for a wider audience's comment. Our English department is already doing this with their gopher.

Paraprints? Well, suppose you publish a monograph and wish you could include 500 illustrations, but the publisher lets you distribute only 30. What becomes of the others? Why not put them on the WWW and get your publisher to let you mention that availability in your book -- the book suddenly becomes more valuable, and the publisher incidentally gets the advertising of the images' presence on the WWW. I do this for a monograph series I edit through the University of Michigan Press on later Latin texts and contexts -- the texts are often quite hard to come by, so we have made it a practice to put the full Latin text of the works discussed in the monographs up on the net, with pointers from book to net and from net to book. The possibilities are endless.

Postprints? In 1979, I published a book with the University of California Press that lately went out of print after selling almost 2000 copies. I've now had it scanned and have a student proofreading it and preparing it for HTML. In a few months, that book will be available on the net freely around the world; I will add some supplementary bibliography and a short essay commenting on how the field has changed in fifteen years, and what was a book of the moment, otherwise destined to deteriorate slowly on a limited number of library shelves, will have a new life of relevance and utility, accessible to people who would never otherwise have gotten at it. Over time, I will add further links, perhaps pointers to additional essays or resources elsewhere on the WWW, and the book will stay alive, at very little cost to author and virtually no cost to readers. A good work-study student who is interested in your field can do wonders and acquire in the process skill and confidence in network tools that will be valuable in other academic work as well. Go on for the virtual classroom called MOO or go back to the start of this guide to new tools for teaching.